Silencing the scientists

As of the 1st May, a ban has come into effect on scientists questioning government policy if their scientific research had any form of state funding.

The government’s purported aim was to dissuade non-government organisations from lobbying politicians using their own funding, so that, in their mind, the taxpayer isn’t funding arguments against government policy. Senior members of the scientific community, however, have widely criticised this greatly controversial move, arguing that it is a direct attack on academic, scientific and personal freedom. It draws a startling resemblance to the scientists working with Stephen Harper’s conservative Canadian government of 2006, where politicians had complete control over what scientists could and could not say to the media, to the point of what questions could be answered and how they were to be answered. Known in the media as the “War on Science”, it was considered an insult to freedom of information and freedom of thought, and this is no different. It could be considered that said “war” has moved across the Atlantic as of the beginning of this month.

Freedom of information has been greatly undermined through this, and the public is now far less aware of what the tax they pay is going towards or how the scientific research they’re funding might be used – if it’s even used at all. Politicians don’t necessarily have to agree with scientific facts, however they’re not going to make better decisions without hearing evidence. Almost all scientists are partially backed by government funding, whether through salary or grant funding, meaning that current health and science policies may be completely untouchable by experts in the field. Debate would be impossible and US-style anti-science thinktanks could possibly grow from this, leading to a regression of scientific thought.

“(It) acts entirely against public interest and safety”

This in itself is undeniably backhanded and corrupt – and in itself ironic, as it’s been pointed out they have not paid much attention to the arguments and evidence put against them. It shows how far the current government is willing to go to further its mandate with absolutely no argument against it from professionals. Indeed, few members of parliament are part of the scientific community, and the research provided by this community is central to public interest and health. In doing this, the Conservative government has completely undermined its own transparency, making it far less accountable.

Thankfully, after a petition was signed by 20,000 academics, ministers have eventually backed down somewhat, and thousands of scientists have been exempted, including larger government-backed bodies, research councils, national academies and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. This may not go far enough, however – it’s badly worded and doesn’t exclude scientists directly funded through Government departments – whether health, business or defence. Large groups of the scientific community may still be gagged, and this will lead to government policy being passed without sufficient scientific scrutiny. Senior members of the scientific community have requested on several occasions that this censure should be repealed entirely from all scientists, but to no avail.

The conservative government repeatedly argues about times when the incumbent labour party assumes control over government-funded groups, however, this shows their hypocritical nature and their willingness to completely cut off and blacklist scientists who do not conform to their will. Despite this being partially repealed, it shows the willingness of the Conservatives to silence those willing to speak out against their policies, especially in regards to climate change. Certain government-funded programmes are incredibly set in EU policies and whether EU laws are being upheld by Government policy – silencing these censors a key group who support the UK remaining in the European Union. It’s incredibly dangerous on a national and international level, and acts entirely against public interest and safety.

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